Cooperation and conflict

One of the greatest problems for the biological and social sciences is to explain cooperative social behaviours. The problem is that, all else being equal, cooperation would reduce the relative fitness of the cooperator and hence be selected against. Despite this, cooperation is common at all levels of life. Bacterial pathogens cooperate to overcome the immune response of their hosts, meerkats babysit the pups of other individuals, and ants live in complex social societies. Within humans, our underlying psychology, morality, institutions and societies are all based around cooperative interactions.

Our aim here is to exploit two systems that offer very different advantages for studying the evolution of cooperation: humans and bacteria. Humans offer excellent opportunities for studying how levels of cooperation are adjusted conditionally in response to local conditions, as well as a unique ability for examining the underlying mechanisms and motivations. Bacteria offer excellent opportunities for experimental evolution studies, where we can study how cooperation evolves in different environmental and social conditions.

Project Members

Stuart West
Kevin Foster
Tom Norman

Selected Recent Publications